When the Falcons drafted Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford with their first two picks last season, no one was really sure what the plan was. It seemed unlikely the Falcons would start two bookend rookie corners, but by the end of the season that's exactly what was happening. Of course, one reason for that was the youth movement late in the season. With the Falcons out of contention for a playoff spot, the young players began getting the majority of the playing time and Alford was inserted as the team's cornerback along with Trufant, who started every game of the season.
This year, the plan seems pretty clear: start your two second-year corners and let them turn into two of the better young duos in the league. It's not necessarily something they've thought long and hard about, but a little recognition as a top duo isn't something they'd mind.
Alford started the final four games of last year and played well, improving with each game and ending with one of his better games in coverage of the year in the season-ender vs. Carolina. That experience of putting the playbook into action on the field helped Alford learn the scheme and this offseason has been spent improving his technique and picking up the nuances of the defense.
"Everything's been going smooth," Alford said earlier this week. "Being my second year, I learned the playbook my first year. Now it's just going through things and just refreshing everything from last year and learning the new tweaks in our defense."
The Falcons hit the practice fields in Flowery Branch for the second week of organized team activities as the countdown to veteran minicamp and training camp continues
Being a second-round draft pick doesn't carry quite the same expectations as a first-round pick, but the burden to start is still there and Alford understands it. He understands his draft status is what it is for a reason and he's being looked to as an answer on the defense this year, but he's got to come in and still do what it takes to win the job.
"Tru went first round and I went second round," Alford said. "That's the first thing they told us when they drafted us, nothing would be handed to us. We've got to come in and earn our position. Me and Tru are competitive guys and that's why they drafted us. Coming into this second year, even though we went first and second round, even though we started last year, we are still coming in competiting like we're free agents. We're going to compete no matter what, no matter if they promise us a starting job or not."
The Alford/Trufant vs. Julio Jones/Roddy White training camp assignments will be enjoyable to watch and will ultimately make the young corners even better. Trufant credits those experiences with helping him have a stellar rookie season and more time for Alford against those two receivers will only help him as well.
Talk in the offseason about a changing Falcons defense doesn't affect Alford. Whether it's an even- or odd-man front, a cornerback still has one job and that's how Alford is approaching any changes that take place on the defense.
"Pretty much it's just about going out there doing your job no matter what it is," Alford said. "If it's cover-3 or man, just go out there and shut your side down and do what you have to do to help the team win."